Connecting the Dots by Transit in Los Angeles?

Over the past three years, the nation’s largest transit systems have endured a broad and unprecedented ridership decline. By far the largest drop has been in Los Angeles and this has resulted in justifiable consternation.

Metro, the largest transit system in Los Angeles County, has seen its passenger counts (boardings, see Note 1) drop from over 1.5 million each weekday in its recent 2013 peak, to just over 1.25 million in 2017. This decline has occurred at the same time as Metro’s third most successful new rail line, the Expo line, from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles, was opened. Figure 1 shows 2010 and 2017 ridership and indicates that for each Expo line passenger, there was a loss of three passengers in the rest of the Metro system.

This is occurring as Metro has undertaken one of the most significant rail and busway building programs in modern US history. Now six rail lines and two busways head to different destinations from downtown, complemented by one lateral line (the Green Line) and one busway (the Orange Line). Yet, despite expenditures of over $15 billion on the already opened rail and busway lines, ridership has never been restored to its 1985 bus only peak.

. . .Another theory, strikingly consistent with the UCLA observations, is advanced by Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled: “Transit-oriented development? More like transit rider displacement.” Ms. Rosenthal cites data showing that “…L.A.’s transit riders are mostly low-income black and Latinos: 88% of Metro bus riders are people of color, and more than 50% have annual family incomes under $15,000. When they lose housing near bus or rail lines, they lose access to transit.” Her point is that the transit-oriented development that occurs along rail lines displaces transit riders, who cannot afford higher rents.

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